Staff Online Community Manager

Sister to Sister: Mood Swings

We've all been there. One moment you're reading a book, playing a game, doing your homework, or hanging out with friends—the next, all you want to do is scream, throw something, cry, or crawl into bed for eternity. Half an hour later, everything's fine again.

In extreme, very intense forms, mood swings can sometimes be a sign of a deeper problem such as bipolar disorder, or other mood disorders (if you ever think you might have one of these conditions, talk to a parent, counselor, or other trusted adult!), but for the most part they're quite normal, albeit often rather unpleasant. Mood swings are a pretty universal thing, though different people experience them to different degrees, with different frequency. Sometimes they're precipitated by something specific (e.g. stress, disappointment, frustration, or bad news), but often they seem somewhat random or arbitrary, difficult or impossible to trace to any particular cause. Mood swings can occur throughout the lifespan, though childhood to old age, but tend to be especially intense and frequent during puberty for many people, what with all the hormonal changes we're going through at this point—which is why adolescence is when you may find yourself experiencing these sudden changes in mood more often, and where being able to handle them can become essential.

  • Wait It Out

To some extent, because of their unpredictability, sometimes the best thing you can do with a mood swing is just to wait for it to pass. Of course, sometimes changes in mood do have causes, in which case by far the most helpful tool would be to address the cause. If you're feeling stressed because you haven't written an essay you're supposed to be working on, just sitting back and waiting to cheer up probably won't do much good; if you actually write the essay, that might be a good solution to both your feelings and to the underlying reason. But other times, they're spontaneous. (Or, even when there are triggers, they might something you have only minimal or no control over, like widespread climate change, war, or poverty.) For me, I have moments when I'll suddenly feel angry or hopeless. These feelings are very real, yet even as I experience them I'll be aware that they're not really rational. (I'll discuss this more later.) In these cases, sometimes it's helpful to distract yourself until the mood passes. Listen to soothing music; read a book; go for a walk or jog; mop the floor; doodle; whatever works for you. Grappling with moods and trying to overcome them can only go so far—sometimes, it's best to just step aside, sit down, hang tight, and wait out the swing until you can come out safe on the other side.

That said, there are some other techniques for countering mood swings and/or reducing their intensity that I use and do find helpful:

  • Rationalize

I already mentioned that sometimes mood swings are quite illogical—but even when you recognize this, it doesn't stop the emotions. However, this doesn't mean that it can't help! So one of my go-to strategies when I'm feeling overwhelmed by a sudden wave of feelings is to try to take a step back. I'm feeling incredibly despondent, yes... but why am I feeling despondent? Is it because I just found out I didn't get into an orchestra I auditioned for? Is it because I'm worried about my grandparents' health? Is it because I'm feeling guilty over a fight I had with my sister? Or is it just because I'm feeling despondent, with no particularly cause? Try thinking through the possible triggers, if any, of this mood swing—or, even better, write them down. That way you have something tangible you can use as a point of reference, plus the very act of writing can sometimes be conducive to figuring things out.

If I can go through this process of either identifying the source of my feelings or identifying that I can't find a source at all, then this makes it easier to look at things more objectively. Ask yourself these questions (and any others that come to mind): "Why am I feeling this way?" "What, if anything, could I have done to prevent feeling this way, and what can I do now to stop?" "Is there a bigger problem going on that I need to address before I can effectively deal with my feelings?"

If you come up with answers to these questions, then act on what you determine. (For instance, you figure out that you're feeling angry because a teacher was treating you unfairly, then talk to a parent or another adult—maybe even the teacher! If you're in a bad mood because you're sick, focus on improving your health! And so on.) If things you thought would help aren't helping at any point, you can always reevaluate the situation. And if you come to the conclusion that it really is just a mood swing, independent of external causal factors, then keep in mind that a) your emotions are entirely real, valid, and worthy of attention, but b) your emotions do not define you as a person, nor do they define what's going on about you in your life. Sometimes just recognizing and articulating this can diminish the force of a mood swing.

  • Express

Especially when we conclude that our feelings aren't rooted in reality, it can be all too easy to try to just push them aside and ignore them. But, while I did recommend waiting the mood swing out as a potentially useful technique for getting through, that doesn't mean you shouldn't acknowledge how you feel! I've made the mistake many times of bottling my emotions up, but while in the short run this might seem convenient, in the long run it's anything but; instead of going away, they just build up inside and simmer until it's too much to hold in anymore.
There are different ways of expressing your feelings, and none of these ways are "wrong". But it is important that you have some means you can use to release your feelings instead of keeping them pent up inside of you. Whether this means expressing your moods through writing, art, or music, using your emotional energy productively through exercise, or talking to a friend, family member, or even venting through NMG via PMs (my Inbox is always open <3) or on a discussion like Get It Out (or using multiple of these methods!), it's good to have a go-to channel to express your moods and get them out.

The good news is that mood swings aren't always negative! Even though the phrase is most often used in the context of sudden onslaughts of bad feelings, any swing moves up and down, forward and back. We don't always notice them as much, unfortunately, but I'll bet there are also times when you're feeling comfortable, optimistic, and happy, even though nothing specific has happened. Mood swings can go both in directions—so next time you're feeling happy, remember it for when one of those inevitable downs rolls around. No matter how bad you're feeling sometimes, I promise that sooner or later you'll be able to move back up to a more positive emotional place.

Please share your experiences and tips for dealing with mood swings in the comments below—I love to hear your thoughts! And whatever feelings and mood changes you go through during puberty and beyond, remember that it won't last forever, it's not your fault, and you're not alone. <3

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Staff Online Community Manager

I'm Sarah—an 19-year-old Jewish musician, bookworm, college student, lifelong learner, NMG online community manager/magazine editor, and the list goes on. I love to write all sorts of things, from essays to fiction to poetry, though I don't claim to be particularly good at any of the above.
Any and all feedback, supportive or constructive, is always more than welcome; I value and appreciate every comment I get. :)

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  • This was very helpful! Thank you!! ^^^^^^
  • This is awesome thank you so much I need this!!!!!
  • Thank you so very, very, much for writing this. I bookmarked it and will probably be coming back to it many times.

    I seem to have mood swings a lot more frequently and of greater intensity since July. I just put it together that maybe it's not entirely just mood swings and not random either, because the main emotion that "swings" in is fear and seems to happen as a result of me thinking about certain things.

    The part about how emotions are valid, but they do not define us, was really helpful to me as well. Since July, like I said, the main emotion that I feel in spurts is fear and every time that happens I always think something like "I'm such a fearful person" or "oh no, I'm afraid of everything, how will I ever make it in life" and I was letting it define me. So that was really great to hear (again).

    Anyways, I fear I am rambling on and on, so adieu!
    • Staff Online Community Manager
      Wow—you're so welcome, Jonah!! I'm so happy that this was helpful enough, and I'm honored that you thought it worthy of a bookmark. <3 By all means, feel free to reread it as many times as you can possibly want!!

      Ah, yes; sometimes it is hard to differentiate between spontaneous mood swings and ones that have specific reasons. And of course, often mood changes can be some combination of these two types, where a mood swing is triggered by something specific but then spins out of control; I know this often happens to me, anyway. It's definitely a positive thing to be able to come to the conclusion that these "mood swings" aren't entirely random, though, to be better equipped to deal with them; good for you! :)

      I'm so glad to hear it! To be honest, I wrote much of this post based on things that I personally struggle or have struggled with, and some things that help me, and that's definitely true for that particular part. I have an unfortunate tendency to catastrophize on my own future and self-worth based on my emotions—and on the other side of the coin, I also have a tendency to feel guilty for the emotions I do have—so I definitely know what that's like firsthand. :'( These are things that I need to remind myself of as much as anyone else! And I'm incredibly glad to hear that it helped someone else as well, not just me.

      No, no worries; I was so happy to read your comment!! Thanks for posting and sharing your experiences. :'D
  • S2S Mentor
    This is a great article! Thanks for writing it! I have mood swings all the time and a techniques that I have been using recently is writing poems. They usually turn out really sad, but it definitely helps when I'm depressed or feeling down.
    • Staff Online Community Manager
      Thanks so much, Amelia! You're very welcome—I'm glad you liked it. :)
      Poetry is definitely a wonderful channel for emotions. (As can be visual arts, music, or other types of artistic expression.) I sometimes use writing poems as a technique for getting through low moods as well, and I'm so glad that that tool is something that helps you! Thank you for sharing. :')
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